Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Still Much to Overcome: African American History Month Is a Good Reminder to Keep Our Eyes on the Prize

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Still Much to Overcome: African American History Month Is a Good Reminder to Keep Our Eyes on the Prize

Article excerpt

CARTER WOODSON'S LIFE READS LIKE A MADE-TO-ORDER American success story: taught to read by family members, he worked as a coal miner in West Virginia, graduated from Berea College in Kentucky in 1903, and in his spare time learned Romance languages via correspondence classes. What distinguishes Woodson's American tale from others, however, is that as a black man growing up in turn-of-the-century America, none of these achievements could have been accomplished without a remarkable degree of personal fortitude.

In 1912 he became only the second African American to earn a Harvard doctorate. In 1926, troubled by the invisibility of the black experience in history texts, Woodson began promoting Negro History Week during the second week of February (acknowledging the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass). That effort evolved into our contemporary month of remembrance and recognition.

A social critic and visionary, Woodson, the "father of black history," was at heart a teacher. He hoped that an African American history commemoration would help build an educational foundation for the work of racial justice and restitution the nation so achingly required. If Woodson were around on this 80th celebration of African American history, he would find much has improved in race relations in the United States, but he would also find much that is sadly familiar.

Integration as a general goal of American community and educational life seems to have exhausted itself. Schools are rapidly re-segregating across the nation, and gated communities are springing up in the suburbs, while many urban neighborhoods still remain "no go" zones to black would-be homeowners. Black Americans are denied mortgages and home improvement loans at twice the rate of whites.

In recent years impressive achievements in closing the economic and educational gap between white and black Americans have been shadowed by a persistent condition of poverty among African Americans and its associated social maladies. Just over 13 percent of the general population, black Americans still represent almost 25 percent of the nation's poor.

A reflection of the late-1990s boom, unemployment in the black community fell to an all-time low of 7 percent in the spring of 2000. …

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